As the public obsession with online fame grows, some people are cashing in on their posts
For many, keeping up with an online personality is not just a form of entertainment – it’s a window into a potential career. Growing numbers of ordinary people want to make Instagram, YouTube and other platforms their full-time job.
In June, a survey by the adult education college City Lit in London found that 38 per cent of Britons would like to be an online influencer, with one in 10 saying the aspiration was “very important” to them.
Meanwhile the roles of “influencer” and “YouTuber” have become the second and third most wanted careers among British children, according to the affiliate marketing network Awin – though doctor still clung on to first place.
While fame, flexible work hours and fulfillment factor into these aspirations, there is no denying that money plays a part. Last year, a UniDays study found that students expect to earn £55,000 a year as a YouTuber – more than the average lawyer or investment banker.
Some of the internet’s biggest stars are thought to make several times that. Vlogger Zoe Sugg, known as Zoella, is estimated to have made £50,000 a month last year, while Kylie Jenner is reportedly paid $1m (£800,000) per Instagram post. Most people in the industry are never likely to make anywhere near that much. But is it possible to make a living out of living your life online?
How influencers make money
Influencers are people whose online content – whether that’s images, videos, text posts or all three – can sway their audience into buying certain products and services. This can be through honest reviews or paid advertising.
Although the term “influencer” might conjure up an image of someone with millions of followers, the term “micro-influencer” has emerged to describe a user whose audience may be smaller but more dedicated, which can make them even more valuable to advertisers than big stars. From fishing and fashion to knitting and #teachergram, there is a niche community for everything.
Other ways of monetising accounts include affiliate links, which direct followers to a brand’s website through a unique URL that gives influencers a cut if the click leads to a sale.
YouTubers can add advertising to their videos, though the site last year changed its rules around who can make money from content. Critics have said it has made it harder for smaller creators to make a living.
Then there are the freebies. Beauty products, holidays and Michelin-starred meals can all be part of a brand’s efforts to appear on the right feeds.
All of this has not gone unnoticed by Britain’s advertising watchdog. Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued new guidance which made it clear that, wherever payment has been received, even in the form of gifts, it needs to be made clear on the post. As influencers begin to make more money from their followers, regulators are making sure consumers have all the information.
‘I’m saving for my wedding with Instagram posts’
Bryony Morganna (@brymorganna), 27, is a part-time food blogger with 17,900 followers on Instagram
“I’ve got a full-time job as a personal assistant, but it allows me enough flexibility to do Instagram on the side. My day is taken up by my normal job, and I’ll do four evenings a week either at restaurants or events.
“I love food, and I love going out for dinner. The reason I started doing this was to be able to spend more time with friends and my boyfriend, going out and doing cool things.
“If a brand contacts me and says: ‘Please can you post about our product?’, I will charge for it. At the moment I charge £250 for a single post. If I have to attend and post about an event – which means travelling into London – I will charge £350.
“I got engaged last year so every time I get a payment through it goes straight into a separate bank account and that’s our wedding fund. If I had it in my main bank account I’d just whistle it away.
“I also get a lot of free restaurant dinners, maybe two or three a week that would normally cost £50 to £80.
“I’ve always wanted to be my own boss so I would really love to be doing this full-time but you’ve got to put a lot of time and work in. At the moment I want to make sure that it always stays enjoyable.”
Like any form of freelance work, social media can throw up many challenges. Earlier this year, the mortgage broker Habito found that 78 per cent of freelancers said being self-employed made them worry about their financial situation.
At the moment, the instability of the work is part of a trade-off that influencers have to make if they want the opportunities their career can bring. But as advertisers and creators alike look for something more permanent, a trend for long-term partnerships is growing.
Adam Williams, chief executive at Instagram influencer marketing service Takumi, said: “Consumers are savvier than ever and are looking to engage with authentic brand narratives from influencer content. As a result, brands and marketers alike are seeking out longer-term partnerships.
“These give influencers opportunities to monetise themselves across multiple channels, which also have significant benefits for a brand.”
Keeping up with changes
With the digital landscape always shifting, influencers risk falling by the wayside if they fail to keep up. In one of the biggest changes this year, Instagram ran a series of tests in which it hid “like” counts on profiles. Facebook is following suit.
Edward East, CEO and founder of the influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy, said that the change could be positive for “conscientious creators”, weeding out those with false follower counts purchased online.
“Influencers and agencies will be able to place less weight on chasing vanity metrics to validate self-worth or investment and focus more on creative integrity and powerful messaging – which is now vital, because the modern relationship between influencers and their followers has changed so much,” he said.
“Recent focus group work research we carried out shows that consumers now want influencers to be relatable, credible, inspiring, real, authentic, true to their original brand message and act like a friend.”